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Good Question: How Did Poinsettias Become Part Of Christmas?

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(credit: CBS) Heather Brown
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — We know Christmas must be close when we see poinsettias decorating offices, public spaces and homes.

“I like them because they’re pretty and last long,” said 8-year-old Abby, who was buying one for herself and one for her mother at Bachman’s on Tuesday night.

A WCCO-TV viewer named Tracy noticed many people at the senior home where she works in Albany receive them as gifts from family members. So, she wondered: How did poinsettias become associated with Christmas?

According to the American Phytopathological Society, the flowering plant originated in Mexico and was used by the native people for medicines and dyes. In 1825, U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Joel Pointsett, who was also a  botanist, introduced the poinsettia to the U.S. when he brought to the plant back to his home in South Carolina.

A century later, a farming family from California thought the red color would sell well at Christmas.

“Albert Ecke and his son, Paul Ecke, really brought the plant to the marketplace and developed the plant to how we know it today,” said Susie Bachman West of Bachman’s.

This year, Bachman’s – one of the largest growers in the U.S. – grew 85,000 plants to be sold locally. The industry as a whole makes several hundred million dollars every year. According to West, about 70 percent of the poinsettias sold are red, 20 percent are white and the other 10 percent are pink or other color variations.

The origins to Christmas date back to a 16th century Mexican legend, recounted in children’s book by Tomie dePaola. In that story, a poor girl named Pepita brought a handful of weeds as a gift to Jesus on Christmas Eve. Her cousin tells her that “even the most humble gift, if given with love” will be accepted. The legend follows that the bouquet of weeds bursts into blooms of red. In Mexico, the poinsettia plant is called flor del nochebuena, or Christmas Eve flower.

“Christmas is the reason for it,” said Bachman’s shopper, Joey Rockenstein of Minneapolis. “Then it brings joy for the rest of the winter, because we have to take all of the rest of the decorations down.”

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